Has Bin Laden’s Role Diminished?

(source) – U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Pakistan for an unannounced visit. He then talked to the press about terrorist mastermind and poster boy Usama bin Laden. “I don’t know what it means,” Rumsfeld said, commenting on the fact that UBL had not been heard from publicly in close to a year.

“I suspect that in any event,” said the Defense Secretary, “If he’s alive and functioning that he’s probably spending a major fraction of his time trying to avoid getting caught. I have trouble believing that he’s able to operate sufficiently to be in a position of major command over a worldwide al-Qaeda operation, but I could be wrong. We just don’t know.”

He also discussed a recent announcement that U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan will drop by about 3,500, bringing the number of servicemen in the embattled country down to 16,500 next spring. He said to also expect scheduled deployments to Iraq next year to be cancelled, to help slowly bring troop levels down.

The Institute Director has a hard time thinking of Usama bin Laden as a fully functional leader of al-Qaeda. It’d be terrific if he was caught, but his role has diminished, in my humble opinion, to that of a figurehead. You’d chip away at the spear, but it’d still be there. Others, like Zarqawi and Al-Zawahiri seem to be the two major Al-Qaeda coordinators in play.

But what makes the terrorist network scary is that even if you cut off the major players, sleeper cells could still strike independently. It is a very scary, very different kind of war. It is one where good intelligence is more important than gunpowder. If bin Laden were captured, it’d a victory for sure, and I for one will splash the photos all over Delta. But he no longer seems to be the head of the beast. And considering he helped plan and coordinate 9/11, the USS Cole, and other major terrorist attacks aimed at Americans, that itself is a good thing.

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